Taoiseach pledges to work with thalidomide survivors to resolve issues around supports ‘once and for all’

Micheál Martin will contact Irish Thalidomide Association about putting a mediation process in place following calls to ‘fix the stalemate’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he would like a mediation process in place to resolve “once and for all” issues around the impact on Irish survivors of the thalidomide drug.

He told Labour leader Ivana Bacik on Wednesday that he would contact the Irish Thalidomide Association within the next two weeks about establishing a process to resolve problems “as quickly as possible”.

Thalidomide, a drug for morning sickness, was prescribed to expectant mothers whose children were subsequently born with catastrophic or very severe disabilities.

Raising the issue in the Dáil, Ms Bacik said next month marks the 61st anniversary of the withdrawal of the morning sickness drug from the international market in 1961.


But she said it remained in circulation in Ireland “for far too long” after that, and “clearly the State bears responsibility for what happened to those children at the time, and their mothers and families”.

Ms Bacik paid tribute to Finola Cassidy of the Irish Thalidomide Association, who attended the Dáil for the discussion and was a central contributor to the RTÉ Scannal documentary, broadcast on Tuesday, about the thalidomide scandal.

“The mothers and children in particular who were harmed by a negligent government are still waiting for an acknowledgment of the wrong done to them and a formal State apology.”

She said they were offered compensation by a Fianna Fáil government in 2009. But “over decades, the money and packages offered by governments have not come near enough to meet the real cost of the harm caused and the life-changing disabilities experienced by so many survivors”.

She called on the Taoiseach to “fix the stalemate”, issue an apology and ensure an adequate compensation and healthcare package for survivors who are at an age “where they desperately need supports”.

Mr Martin said there had been a long history of supports from previous governments but there were contested issues around liability.

He said they had to make “absolutely sure” that whatever additional funding the State made was not subtracted from the funding given by the German foundation providing supports to survivors.

“Legal clarity is being sought. That is important and cannot be dismissed,” he stressed.

Mr Martin met members of the Irish Thalidomide Association and lawyers representing the association a fortnight ago and, arising from the meeting, the State may develop a mediation approach to work out income supports and health packages. He has also had discussions with the Minister for Health and the Attorney General and would respond to the association within two weeks to “try to resolve this issue once and for all”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times